The men’s basketball team heard the hype all offseason.
After being ranked No. 10 to start the season, expectations are much higher than in recent memory for a Texas team that surprised many last year by qualifying for the NCAA tournament and advancing to the second round.
The Longhorns know they won’t sneak up on anyone this year; they return virtually their entire roster from last year. They also brought in ESPN’s No. 2-ranked prospect for the class of 2014, 6-foot-11 center Myles Turner, to be the anchor of a roster that has already boasted one of the nation’s top frontcourts.
Texas gets the opportunity to start living up to expectations Friday when it opens the season at home against North Dakota State at 7:30 p.m. The team has enjoyed the lavish preseason recognition, but none of it matters once the season begins.
“It’s always a good thing when your program gets notoriety,” head coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s what we were used to for a long time. When season starts, it doesn’t mean anything. You got to win games.”
While the debut of Turner figures to draw the most attention Friday, the projected rise of sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor is also something to look out for. Taylor began receiving considerable acclaim earlier this month when he landed on the Southwestern region’s cover of Sports Illustrated’s annual basketball preview.
Taylor was second on the team in scoring last year with 12.7 points per game, while also leading Texas with four assists per game. He appears poised for an even bigger season this year, and junior forward Connor Lammert believes the point guard could be the Longhorns’ most important player.
“Our team will go as far as [Taylor] takes us,” Lammert said.
Another major story line focuses on how well senior Jonathan Holmes can transition to the small forward position. Holmes, who led the Longhorns with 12.8 points per game last season and finished second with 7.2 rebounds per game, has played power forward throughout his career at Texas but is moving to the three to accommodate the addition of Turner.
“I work at it every day in practice,” Holmes said. “I feel comfortable playing the whole game at the three.”
With Holmes moving to small forward, Texas possesses one of the most dynamic frontcourts in the nation. Holmes joins Turner and junior center Cameron Ridley, who broke out last season to average 11.5 points and a team-high 10.5 rebounds per game, to form a trio of players each capable of double-digit points and rebounds on any given night.
That frontcourt, coupled with the growth of Taylor, figures to be the blueprint for success for the Longhorns his season. Now, it’s up to the players to put that plan to work.
“Last year, some ranked teams didn’t make it to the tournament,” Barnes said. “Some teams that were left for dead made it. You got to win. Got to take care of business. Starting Friday night, they all matter.”